Ron Gardenhire didn’t have any lefties in his bullpen; Paul Molitor knew this.
So when lefty Matt Boyd took the ball for the Detroit Tigers at Target Field on Friday night, Molitor knew in the back of his mind that he’d be able to save some of his weapons for late in the game.
That dynamic came to fruition in the seventh inning, when Joe Mauer pinch-hit for Ehire Adrianza and delivered a go-ahead homer on a full-count pitch from Tigers right-handed reliever Louis Coleman. Mauer’s homer gave the Twins just enough cushion to wiggle free from a slight jam in the ninth inning on the way to a 5-4 win.
With the victory, the Twins improved to 18-4 over their last 22 games at Target Field.
Kyle Gibson navigated a little trouble early, but managed to complete seven innings while Tyler Austin and Eddie Rosario each popped solo homers to help get the Twins back after falling behind 3-0 early, and Taylor Rogers cleaned things up in the ninth by getting the final out for his first MLB save.
Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:
Win probability table
With Boyd on the mound, lefties Mauer and Max Kepler sat along with Mitch Garver — since Bobby Wilson has more or less established himself as Gibson’s personal catcher — but that left some cards for Molitor to keep up his sleeves in the late innings.
While Boyd diced up the Twins offense early on, the Twins got to him with a pair of home runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
Miguel Sano opened the seventh with a strikeout, but Austin followed with a moonshot to left-center, and Jake Cave dropped a single into center before Boyd hit Johnny Field with a pitch. Instead of having Boyd — who by this time had thrown just under 90 pitches — face Adrianza, Gardenhire opted to bring the funky righty Coleman into the game.
Coleman fell behind Mauer 2-0, and again 3-1 before running the count full. Coleman started Mauer with four straight changeups, then went to a high-80s four-seam fastball to get the count full.
Mauer looked back in disgust at home plate umpire Laz Diaz as he clearly didn’t care for either strike call, and it’s hard to blame him:
“He’s got a great sinker and right there, I was just trying to get something up in the zone,” Mauer said of his general assessment of the plate appearance against Coleman. “I didn’t look back at them on tape, but I thought they were down. I thought the second strike was down and away. Even if they were strikes, that wasn’t something I’d want to offer at, especially with one out and more likely put it on the ground.
“So, looking for something up and 3-2, I got that pitch and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.”
But regardless of if the count was 3-2 or 5-0, the 3-2 fastball that Coleman left over the plate couldn’t have been more hittable if it had a ‘Kick Me’ sign on it, and Mauer deposited it over the fence in right-center for his fourth home run of the year.
As Mauer got into the dugout, fans implored him to come back out for a curtain call, and he obliged after some prodding from his teammates. Gibson admitted he was one of the teammates imploring him to doff his cap for the fans.
“I was (encouraging him),” Gibson said. “That’s about as professional an at-bat as you’re going to see. That’s Joe Mauer right there. He’s a guy that gets a tough pitcher’s pitch on 3-1, doesn’t panic and gets the pitch he needs to hit and just put one of the best swings you’ve ever seen. That’s him. When he gets the chance to do that, most of the time they walk him. When he gets a chance to do that, he capitalized and did a great job.”
“It’s awesome,” Mauer said of the curtain call. “I mean, just walking to the plate in that situation, tonight’s crowd was awesome, great energy and I kind of had to step out a couple times just to take a couple deep breaths just to control the emotions a little bit. After it hit the seats, that was pretty awesome.”
The home run was just Mauer’s second career pinch-hit homer — with the other coming back in 2009. Take a peek here to see it:
Gibson was a double-play fiend
It looked like Gibson might threaten the MLB record for double plays induced in a game — single-game marks for pitchers are hard to find, but seven is the most a team has hit into — as he opened the night with twin killings in the first three innings.
After a fourth-inning reprieve — where Gibson gave up a pair of runs on a Nicholas Castellanos walk, Niko Goodrum double and a Victor Martinez single — Gibson was back on his game with an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play to end the fifth inning.
That ended up being the extent of double plays for Gibson on the evening, but it still showed a prominent part of the skill set that has gotten him to where he is now. However, instead of pushing the 50 percent mark for grounders, he’s down to 47.6 percent, though he’s made the tradeoff by fanning almost two more batters per nine innings than he did last season.
And there isn’t a pitcher in baseball who wouldn’t willingly make that tradeoff. The league-average rate is about 45 percent, so Gibson is still on the right side of that, anyhow.
For their work on the evening, Gibson gave his defense all the credit.
“They were in the right spot when I needed them to be,” the tall righty said. “They did a really good job to pick me up when I needed it.”
For the evening, Gibson had 13 swinging strikes on 102 pitches — a very good rate — with six coming on the slider that has been a really, really big pitch for him. His four-seam fastball peaked at 95.7 mph and settled at 94.2 — according to Baseball Savant — and his two-seamer wasn’t much further behind (95.3, 93.4 respectively).
Despite a little bit of trouble in the fourth and the Tigers pushing another run across in the sixth after Jeimer Candelario opened the inning with an automatic double, Gibson did a fine job keeping his team in the game long enough for the offense to pick up the sticks.
Gabriel Moya seems to be working his way into the good graces of the manager
With two strikeouts in a clean inning of work, it isn’t hard to see why. Moya came in and threw eight of his nine pitches for strikes — including three swinging strikes — and has been very good since returning from Triple-A Rochester.
Moya hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last six appearances dating back to Aug. 3, and in that time frame has lowered his ERA from 7.36 to its present-day mark of 4.12. With a WHIP of 1.17, 19 strikeouts in 19.2 innings and a FIP of 3.97, it isn’t hard to imagine Moya working his way into deeper parts of games in the near future.
Boyd was very, very difficult to solve early on
The crafty lefty faced just one batter over the minimum — Cave being hit by a pitch in the second — through four innings, as the Twins didn’t break through for a hit until Austin opened the fifth with a single.
But from that point on, things cleared up a bit for the Twins. Austin was stranded at first, but in the sixth, Rosario homered to right to get the Twins on the board. Austin followed an inning later, and before long, Boyd was headed for the showers.
Boyd kept the Twins off balance with a mix of four- and two-seamers in the low-90s, but he also mixed in quite a few sliders (22) in his 97 pitches on the night, with the change (five), slider (four) and four-seam fastball (three) getting the swinging strikes for him overall.
Boyd has given the Twins some trouble in the past — 3.00 ERA, .441 OPS allowed this season in three starts — so it was a good sign to Molitor to see his offense take some better swings as they saw more of the 27-year-old lefty.
Rosario and Austin got the Twins offense going with big home runs
Rosario wasted little time, hooking the first pitch he saw from Boyd in the sixth inning out to right field. To that point, Rosario had flown to center and popped to third, but was ready when Boyd came back with a first-pitch slider after ending the previous plate appearance with one as well.
Austin ambushed a 1-1 changeup, but it wasn’t horribly located.
Austin said after the game he was prepared for it, as Boyd has made him look silly on changeups in the past. That included Austin’s swinging strikeout in the second inning, which saw two of the three strikes come on the slugger swinging through low-80s changeups.
On the final one, however, he connected — and drove the ball 450-plus feet into the Minneapolis evening.
“I think he’s going to handle mistakes,” Molitor said of Austin. “Especially offspeed mistakes that are up in the zone. He has swung through at least three or four changeups that had better down action to them. And that one looked like it floated a little more and got into his wheelhouse. I don’t know if it was a carryover from the softball home runs before the game, but it’s got to feel good. He had our first hit too. Got down on a little fastball too. You’re always going to match up against some of these lefties really well. We’re going to keep trying to get him a look at them.”
- Mauer’s first pinch-hit homer in 2009 was when he hit for Mike Redmond.
- Gibson has seen 18 double plays turned behind him this season.
- The Twins improved to 27-24 against AL Central opponents, and won their seventh straight game at home.
- Rosario’s home run was his 21st; he needs just six more to tie last season’s career-high of 27.